Chip Taylor Sings To The Glory of Rock & Roll Joes
So I don’t bury the lead, I’d better start with this; Americana-singer-songwriter, Chip Taylor, along with his partners, guitarist, John Platania and fiddle player and singer-songwriter, Kendel Carson, have released a new album and website to honor the overlooked, often forgotten, unseen and unsung heroes of the music world. He calls them “Rock & Roll Joes.” So far the website, Rock & Roll Joe: A Tribute To The Unsung Heroes of Rock & Roll, pays tribute to Nicky Hopkins, James Burton, Clyde Stubblefield, and Sneaky Pete. The new album, on Chip’s own Train Wreck Records, is a three-way collaboration between Chip, Kendel Carson and John Platania dedicated to anyone who has ever carried out their passion for music in a way that goes unnoticed. In a sense, it’s all of us; but, as Chip describes it, he and his band spent hours in a van touring Sweden, talking about great musicians they had heard and/or worked with over the years. People like John Paul Jones of Led Zepplin and Al Gorgoni and Paul Griffin were mentioned. We all have our own ‘Joes’ we could add to the list from unknown names to some very familiar ones who have been content to fly under the musical radar.
Terry: So, what’s a Rock & Roll Joe?
Chip: It’s somebody who brought a lot of passion to what they did in the music. Nobody ever knew they were around. I might be a Rock & Roll Joe to some people. There are so many people who helped. People who you don’t see; people you don’t know about. Like Al Gorgoni. Here’s a guy who played on “Sounds of Silence,” and made it electric. He played that lead guitar part on “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison.
Terry: So it’s like the musician’s musicians?
Chip: It doesn’t have to be musicians. There are behind-the- scenes people with a ton of passion for what they do. I did a write up on the site for Steve Popovich(a music executive). Some other articles have been coming in. There’s one by Donnie Fritz on Hollis Dixon. We pay tribute to Mickey Baker, not enough people know how great Mickey is. I’ve worked a lot with Bill Frisell and I told him I played with Mickey Baker and he couldn’t believe it. Well, Bill Frisell for that matter is a R&R Joe. He even told me about street musicians he met in Australia who would qualify. There was Greg Richards who played lead guitar in my first group. Without Greg’s passion, I’d never be in music today. He was maybe not a great technical player but he had great soul. He became this walking booking agent. He hit the streets to get us our first gigs. I also like to hear what others have to say. We’re expecting submissions by Lucinda and Buddy Miller. Can’t wait to hear what they have to say. We already have one by Robert Earl Keen on John Vandiver.
Terry: I noticed many of the articles are on musicians who have passed on. Is this to be a memoriam kind of site?
Chip: No! Not at all. You know, Mickey’s still alive and Al Girorginoni. And you know they can be young or old. I want to start hearing from some of the young bands.
Terry: How did the album and the concept begin?
Chip: We were on tour in Sweden. Every time we’d get into the van someone in the band would start talking about different guys. Brian(Owings) and Ron(Eoff) would get into it. They’d start telling these stories that were showing reverence to these fellows. They were talking about the Savoy Files. The song, “Couldn’t We Use Some of That Now” on the new album gets into that. I was part of what they call The Brill Building. There were three buildings that were promiminent in the mid-60’s ni New York City. They call it the ‘Brill Building, but it was really three. I was at 1650 Broadway. The other was 1619 Broadway which was really the Brill Building. Down a block east was Screen Gems where Carole King and Gerry Coffin wrote. That song puts me into that moment when I was looking out the window feeling the pulse of that time and era and the anarchy when these young kids were taking over the business. Just a few years before that everything was prepared before sessions. Every note was written, it was all conducted. When we started taking over the philosophy was more of a feeling thing. We didn’t tell the drummer exactly which beats to hitj, which was a bit more southern, more country than New York. Very quickly it became a whole different mind set reflecting the power and passion of feeling things instead of being absorbed in a mind kind of thing. A lot of them were more sophisticated, the musicians knew how to write charts, but they still had the feeling. It was less school’d.
Chip: There’s pluses and minuses. Chet was a soulful guy. He could feel things. He was the main reason I was successful. This publisher, Gerry Teifer had a connection in Nashville and he sent a song to Chet who was producing records for RCA. Later Gerry showed me a note from Chet saying, “I’m cutting that song you sent me. I have no idea who Chip Taylor is. It’s hard for me to believe he’s from New York, but wherever he’s from I want to hear every song he writes.” He recorded every song I sent to him. Chet was a wonderful producer. His school of producing got more sophisticated as time went on.
Terry: It seems like the Austin Outlaw Movement kind of overturned that sophistication.
Chip: A lot of us got to the point where we didn’t want to play with studio musicians. We wanted to bring in our own people. That led to Waylon and Willie playing with their own band, using their own ideas. The Nashville guys in the 60’s, they weren’t like the Memphis session players. I went down to Nashville when I was just a kid and saw Hank Garland playing my stuff. I remember the Jordinaires. They were friends. They did mostly things on feeling. They didn’t have a lot written out. Nothing was written before the session. Sometimes the musicians would gather around a humble little record player in the studio that had hardly any kind of speaker; they’d sit around and make chord charts by numbers and hardly talk to each other. They’d just kind of look at each other, play the lick then they’d just feel it out. Somebody else would come in and write string charts. The Jordinaires came up their vocal parts in the studio and had them down within ten minutes. Most of the time producers never said a word. There’d be one take, no mixing. You just sang it. The studio would have its own sound. All the levels, everything was set. There was no touching anything. That was in the late 50’s. You know, they’d work with just a couple of channels. And the records were brilliant!
Terry: Now it seems you’re recognizing those days and the musicians.
Chip: Yeah. One of the wonderful things for me about this album is the collaboration. It’s not just me. Kendel Carson sparks ideas. She’s a fearless hot young Americana sensation. We trade off on vocals and you know, its a cast of thousands. And there’s John Platania. Here’s an absolute Rock &Roll Joe. He’s played so many signature sounds. John’s a best buddy, just wonderful.
Terry: I enjoyed the final track, “R&R Joe Reprise.” It was really inspiring with the stories from the other folks working on the record.
Chip: At one point Seth(Farber) mentions a jazz player and I tell him jazz guys are Rock &Roll Joes too.
Terry: Anything new coming up after Rock &Roll Joe?
Chip: Yeah, something close to my heart. I have an album coming out on Smithsonian Folkways with my grandkids – officially released in August called Golden Kids Rules by Chip Taylor & The Grandkids. I love it! They’re not not particularly typical kids songs .. just new songs that the kids like to sing with me. Some fun, some serious, more to do with honest feelings kids have. Also, my next solo album, recorded in Halden Norway (featuring Swedish musicians, one Norwegian, John Platania & NY soul singers) is mixed & finished. We’re going to release it first in Kiruna, Sweden on Nov 6 – on the Second Annual Mean Bastard Day celebrating the darkness there. I wrote the theme song, “I Know Dark.” It was my idea for the festival. The album is called Fuck All The Perfect People. You will love this album.
Chip Taylor, Kendell Carson and John will be appearing at McCabe’s in Santa Monica, Calif. on June 19th at 7:00 PM.